Blackpool 1-1 Southend: Five things we learned
Blackpool FC writer Matt Scrafton takes a look at the key talking points from the Seasiders' draw against the Shrimpers at a snowy Bloomfield Road.
A draw was a fair result
Having played 37 games each, Blackpool and Southend United are separated by just the one point in the league table - so perhaps it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise the two sides couldn’t be separated when they came up against each other at Bloomfield Road on Saturday. The Seasiders were seconds away from drawing in the corresponding fixture at Roots Hall in September, only for Jimmy Ryan to see his last-minute spot kick saved by Mark Oxley. And it was that man Oxley who again frustrated Gary Bowyer’s men, denying them the three points with a number of fine saves. But neither side can have too many complaints about the outcome of the result in what was a highly competitive fixture played out between two evenly matched sides. Southend had the better of the first half, Blackpool gained the upper hand in the second. The Shrimpers ought to have gone into the half-time interval ahead after Marc Antoine Fortune had given them an early lead, but Clark Robertson’s stoppage time leveller pegged them back. Southend seemed content to sit back in the second period and settle for a point, but Blackpool were far from finished. Sean Longstaff and Kyle Vassell both went close with gilt-edged chances in the space of a few seconds – but that man Oxley denied them on both occasions with a superb double save. Southend's Jason Demetriou then rattled the post seven minutes from time with the last real action of the game.
Safety is in sight
At the final whistle on Saturday both sides appeared fairly satisfied with their day’s work and in Blackpool’s case, they were content to be another point closer to safety. With nine games left to play, the Seasiders now sit on 46 points – still seven points ahead of the bottom four. Beat Milton Keynes next week and you’d think that would be that in terms of confirming their League One status for the 2018/19 campaign. Gary Bowyer won't say that, because there's still nine games left to play and 27 points still up for grabs - a couple of defeats and Blackpool could be right back in it. But the Seasiders are now looking upwards and the top half of the table is within their grasp. Post-match on Saturday, Bowyer was talking confidently about wanting to haul in some of the sides above them in the league table. There's a lot of positivity around the club at the minute, on the pitch at least, which should lend itself well to Blackpool's upcoming games. Football isn't played on paper, but a quick look at Blackpool's fixture list between now and the end of the season shows a number of winnable fixtures. Five of their remaining nine games come at home, with Doncaster Rovers up next after the Seasiders travel to MK. They also host the likes of Northampton Town and neighbours Fleetwood Town. Realistically, Blackpool only require another couple of wins and I'd expect them to get them fairly comfortable.
Southend should have been reduced to 10 men
While Gary Bowyer was happy with his side's four-point haul from their two home games this week, his side were once again left to rue a refereeing decision that could have altered the whole outlook of the game. Simon Cox was already on a booking when he ploughed unceremoniously into Curtis Tilt, going above the ball and crippling the defender to the ground. It could quite easily have been a straight red in its own right, but referee Andy Haines ignored the calls from the home supporters to give him his second yellow and send him his marching orders. Instead, he opted to give the former Premier League forward a talking-to, much to the relief of Southend manager Chris Powell who hooked him off at half time. While Southend were already one ahead at that point, and while Blackpool still managed to pull themselves level on the stroke of half time, it was a pivotal moment in the course of the match. Either way, the referee got it wrong.
Robertson edges ahead of Tilt
Clark Robertson notched his third goal of the season with a close-range effort in the last action of the opening period. Teammate Danny Philliskirk is adamant his effort in the lead-up to the goal had already crossed the line, but Robertson made sure of it at the second attempt and was subsequently credited with the goal. That leaves the 24-year-old centre back with three goals to Curtis Tilt’s one in the mini competition set up between them by their manager Gary Bowyer. At the start of the season, Robertson set himself the target of five goals, leaving him an uphill but achievable challenge of netting another two between now and the end of the season. Robertson's scoring form, or the lack of it, has been a running joke between the defender and his manager for the last couple of seasons. Bowyer believes that, for someone so dominant in the air at the back, Robertson should be finding the back of the net regularly from set pieces at the other end of the pitch. The former Aberdeen man is now starting to do that, scoring twice in his last four games. Now it's over to his defensive partner Tilt to play catch up, whose only goal of the season came all the way back in October. He's got some challenge on his hands! But more importantly for Blackpool, the duo continue to defend superbly and long may it continue.
Spearing and Ryan CAN play together
Safety is now in sight for Blackpool following their recent upturn in form, which seems to have coincided with a slight change in system. The Seasiders have often utilised the 4-2-3-1 formation this season, it’s nothing new, but in recent weeks we have seen Jay Spearing and Jimmy Ryan back in the side together. The duo originally struggled to strike up an effective partnership after Spearing, brought in to partner Ryan in Blackpool’s midfield, was signed on a free transfer back in October. It meant one of the duo would find themselves on Blackpool’s bench but, following recent injuries to Sean Longstaff and Callum Cooke, they have found themselves back in the team together. This time their performances have been much improved and it appears both of them have consolidated starting berths. The secret to their success seems to be Longstaff, now back in the side, who has the freedom to roam forwards ‘in the hole’ while Ryan and Spearing sit deeper to protect the back four and keep hold of possession – as they do so well. The accusation aimed at them earlier in the season was that neither player was willing to bomb forward and that would result in a lot of sideways passes. That is now negated with the presence of Longstaff ahead of them. This system leaves Blackpool looking a very balanced side who are extremely tough to break down. Ultimately, that should be enough to keep them in the division this year.